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November 18, 2005


There's a lot of food for thought in this piece, but one group of questions strikes me about theway you've phrased this.

Why is arguing for withdrawal a more realistic argument than arguing for changing course and doing the job right? As long as Bush is president, can we expect him to do what he has said is tantamount to admitting defeat? Is it that you think withdrawal is the better argument politically? Or the action more likely to get other countries to come in and try to stabilize the situation? Would a 2007 Congress be better able to force Bush to start a withdrawal than staying-in-but-changing-the-strategy?

I'm saying this as someone who was against the war in no small part because of my fear that we could not handle the postwar nation building, and even I didn't think it would go this badly. I do have a fondness for Clark and a natural instinct along the "we screwed it up, we have to FIX IT" lines, so even though I am all aboard with arguments for withdrawal, I can understand the pull of the "if we could just do it differently, it wouldn't be a total loss" crowd.

As I’ve written before, it wasn’t a mistake, it was a calculated scheme by men and women who thought - like prideful hegemonists throughout history - to remake the world in their self-interested image or, at least, force it to kowtow in their direction.

I think the problem here is that there are two camps of hegemonists. Those who envisioned spreading the American empire across the Middle East, setting up "democratic" puppets who would ensure our access to oil (and how is that different from the old British hegemonist plan that failed?). And then there are those who hope against hope that we can shore up our existing basis for hegemony, virtual control of the Middle East without military presence there.

Withdrawal is going to suck. I'm particularly concerned by the way it will empower Iran. (But, as Odom says, that has happened already.) But we really don't have a choice. Staying will just continue to weaken us, make us vulnerable to attacks (military and otherwise) at home.

But it's going to have to come with a new conception of the US. The post WWII role of the US and the aspirant grand American empire are both over. And we've got to be thinking in terms of the most stable, acceptable thing that can come after.

I'm with you on Odom. And as you can see from the update, don't forget Zinni.

PUSAN, South Korea, Friday, Nov. 18 - President Bush may have come to Asia determined to show leaders here that his agenda is far broader than Iraq and terrorism, but at every stop, and every day, Mr. Bush and his aides have been fighting a rearguard action to justify how the United States got into Iraq and how to get out.

A reality-based world.

For those few of us who want America to obey it's own laws and to stop killing people there is a simple answer: obey the law - end the unlawful occupation immidiately.

MeteorBlades essentially agrees with Bush and the neocons about the main point of contention here. Namely, does America have the right to decide to invade and bomb other countries for any or no reason? MeteorBlades says, yes, America has that right. America can kill as many brown people as it likes, he says. America can choose to invade countries and can choose to continue occupations, ignoring the law and killing thousands of foreigners. Since he contends that America has the right to play God and kill people en masse he has to think about how many people to murder and where.

There is a simpler answer. Obey the fucking law. Quit murdering people. Withdraw immidiately from the criminal occupation -- in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti and elsewhere.

But for many Americans the concept that they do NOT have the perfect right to decide where and how or for how long they will murder foreigners simply has never occurred to them.

MeteorBlades essentially agrees with Bush with Saddam with Hitler (after all the laws were made in reaction to Hitler's wars) and anyone else who has started a war. War is good. killing people is good -- if you think you have a good reason for it that is. He fundamentally disagrees with US and international law which has outlawed wars of aggression and outlawed the concept of using force as a means of settling disputes with other nations.

Why are Americans so war like? Why does every solution have to involve killing people --- to an American? You want to know why the rest of the world hates you all? Think about it and imagine it was you being murdered not some brown skinned foreigners. Then see how hard it is to think of a solution. I guarantee almost every single Iraqi already knows the "solution".

Why is arguing for withdrawal a more realistic argument than arguing for changing course and doing the job right? As long as Bush is president, can we expect him to do what he has said is tantamount to admitting defeat?

The problem is, Bush also equates changing course with admintting defeat. If we had the slightest shred of evidence that the Bush administration might listen to people with the expertise to successfully change course (to make things better, at least, since I don't believe "success" is possible any more), then that might remain a reasonable argument.

But this administration has from day one considered anyone who disagrees with them an enemy, not just a differing opinion. They have disparaged actual expertise and knowledge at every turn, preferring those who know they're right to those who have evidence that they are, and who will adjust course in the face of new evidence.

Congress, even if the Democrats take both houses, cannot force them to change course, cannot prescribe a working strategy. This administration has responded to every requirement to support, explain, or justify their conduct with at best a letter-of-the-law response, and at worst by simply ignoring it. The only force or threat that could possibly make them change course is a credible threat to cut off funding for the war, which I don't think will happen, and even if it did, a successful strategy would require money going to Iraq for different purposes, and in all honesty in that case I think they'd simply divert it and lie about it.

So even if there is a change in strategy that could succeed, which I doubt, there is not a glimmer of hope that such a change will happen, leaving a withdrawal plan as the only responsible option to support.

I don't see where Meteor Blades advocated a US right to "bomb people for no reason", let alone killing "brown people." These are grossly unfair charges, given his consistent opposition to Vietnam, invervention in Central America etc. What those of us who believe there are limits on what force can accomplish, but that it may sometimes be necessary, have in mind is usually more like the Balkans--intervening to stand between warring factions and prevent humanitarian catastrophes. The Serbs, Croats and even Muslim Kosovars and Bosnians were white Europeans last time I looked.

Calls for withdrawal in the present context (Republican control of WH and Congress) are not necessarily literally calls for evacuating the country right this minute. They are calls for declaring an end to the occupation and an orderly withdrawal. One HAS to call for withdrawal to get the debate moving. It is incumbent on those who want to "change the policy" to explain exactly what policy IS feasible in the present circumstances. Bring in allies or turn it over to the UN? Too late. More troops? Get real. We can't maintain the level of troops in there now. Withdraw from the cities to bases near the borders? That would take measurably fewer troops, and I'd accept that as a start to total withdrawal. But what change is being proposed by those who think the present course is ineffective but won't advocate withdrawal?

And those who say we can't leave because it would get worse have to explain why it will get better, or at least less worse, if we stay. What will Iraq look like in 6 mos or a year or two years if we stay the course?

And finally, if worse does come to worst, won't we be better able to handle it, and with more allies, if we are NOT still an occupying power in Iraq?

DavidByron: As someone who spent 13 months in prison for refusing induction into the Army during the Vietnam era, and as someone who is a brown person descended from a tribe that fought three wars against the U.S. government, I don't need to be lectured to by someone with a severe reading comprehension problem who thinks Americans are equivalent to Nazis and that the American Empire is more murderous than the Soviet one.

I'm confused - what is it exactly that is "stunning" about the Murtha remarks? He's been a dove on Iraq for over two years:

September 18, 2003 on MSNBC's Hardball:
John Murtha:"They're losing hope in Iraq. Lugar, Senator Lugar's report in June said, 'OK, 80 percent of the Iraqi people support us. They support the liberation.' But every day, we're losing support in Iraq because of the poor post-war planning."

May 6, 2004 on Nightline:
John Murtha: "We can not prevail in this war at the policy that’s going today."

November 17, 2004 ABC's World News Tonight:
Congressman John Murtha: “Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk.”

So much for "stunning."


An excellent piece.

I ask you the same question I have asked before - and how will this all effect BUSH's Iraq policy?

Congress holds the pursestrings. As Sara noted on a previous thread, the war can, as in the Vietnam era, be defunded. That will, of course, as I have noted, require some Republicans to cross the aisle.

MB, I'm getting confused between talk of a withdrawal and talk of "timetables." Are these equivalent?

Withdrawal clearly means removing the U.S. presence from Iraq. Timetables, I thought, meant a particular kind of withdrawal and conjures at least in my mind published plans for troop movements -- how many out, what cities, what dates.

This has been nagging at me for a while so maybe you can help clear it up for me.

Is everyone who's for "withdrawal" also for "setting timetables," or has a distinction been drawn in the public discourse? Personally I absolutely think we need to begin withdrawal yesterday, but I'm wishy-washy about making those plans anything other than confidential (as military strategy it seems godawful, but I might be forgiven if I have become wary of allowing non-transparency in this administration).


Apparently the Republican Leadership in the House is calling for a quick up and down vote on the Murtha resolution this afternoon. No hearings, no debate -- just an effort at a quick beheading.

I hope all the Democrats have the ability to agree to vote neither Aye nor Ney -- but to simply vote Present, and then demand hearings on Murtha's proposition. I suppose this sounds a little skittish -- it isn't, I want to see true hearings with all options and plans put on the table.

Murtha's statement yesterday made the point that Americans are far ahead of Congress and the Administration on this issue, and I agree -- but It is also time to get away from the idea that Foreign Policy is made based on popular opinion or propaganda and the emotional responses to such. Congressional Democrats need to stand for the messy business of democracy -- the open examination of what's at stake for the country, the debate about it -- and yea, then the vote.

Agree entirely, Sara. As I wrote in my essay, leaving Iraq is only one aspect that must be dealt with in the reshaping of a new foreign policy. If all we do is withdraw (or redeploy) the troops, then a good portion of the scary scenarios the NeoImps have predicted could come true. The Osamites are a real threat and our foreign policy better be crafted with that in mind or rightwingers will have a case against us come the inevitable "troubles" after withdrawal.

I was also thinking the Dems should have abstained on the gutted Murtha resolution. I guess "Present" is the same thing. Perhaps come January, a different Democratic Rep or Senator can introduce one of these resolutions on a weekly basis.

I think there is a great deal of confusion about "timetable," EP, because people are using the term in different ways. For some, it simply means "deadline." When are all the troops going to be out, or how long until 30- 50-, 100- thousand are out? And these folks want those deadlines to be public.

I see no problem - no additional problem, that is - from announcing a deadline for when all the troops will be out. Say, December 2006. But the details of specific timetables for each segment of our armed forces being withdrawn should remain secret until they actually are out of harm's way - as was the case in the Vietnam years. If I'm not mistaken, Iraqi insurgents' intel is probably good enough to know as soon as the troops do which units would be pulling out, so it's important for our soldiers' safety that we not telegraph that. The NVA surrounding Saigon in the last days of Saigon were practically gentlemen compared with some of those insurgents.

Some dissents in brief. Time permitting (which it may not) I'll return to some of these in detail.

In my view:

* Bush is not likely to complete the balance of his term.

* We will withdraw, and will not wait for the end of the presidential term.

* For all but a very few who enabled or supported the conquest, it was a mistake.

* Competent execution would not have produced substantially better options.

* Gen. Odom's undisguised objective is military conquest of the Middle East. His current opposition reflects his view that Bush Jr went off half-cocked. His "no downside" arguments for withdrawal are as sophomoric as the arguments that got us into this mess.

* Gen. Clark was immensely persuasive in the Out of Iraq Caucus, probably for good reason.

* "[I]f not now, when?" is trite.

* It's not about making a positive difference in Iraq.

* Unprepared withdrawal's primary sequel -- its most likely chain of consequences -- is a global hot war. Global disruptions in trade and aid would inflict casualties in numbers without precedent among the uninvolved -- the world's largest and poorest populations.

* We are on a trajectory to unprepared withdrawal.

Democratic Representatives and Senators will not be pushed into anybody's camp, in part because they never were "posturing, triangulating, and hemming and hawing" to begin with.

If it was wrong to go into Iraq without a plan for what would happen once we were there (I believe that was wrong), how is it better to leave Iraq without a plan for what will happen once we leave? I just don't get either one. It seems to be making the same mistake twice.

Ron, we'll continue to disagree on quite a number of your bullet points. Your opinion, my opinion.

On four issues, however, let me respond:

* My view is NOT that better options would have been produced by competent execution. My point is that competent execution would have greatly altered the debate we're now having. If that competence had included sending more troops initially, it might well have REDUCED the overall number casualties, although U.S. casualties might have been the same or higher. If Iraqis had seen the U.S. as competent, that might very well have affected how they now view the insurgency, might indeed have defused all but the jihadist wing. But, as I said, before, we've got no time machine, so we'll never know.

* If Bush doesn't serve out the rest of his term, and Cheney doesn't either, presumably we'll have had a resignation, an impeachment and/or a myocardial infarction. If they're both gone and the Dems win Congress in '06, then perhaps President Pelosi will be able to implement the plan of the Center for American Progress or of Wesley Clark. A lot of ifs. But to suggest that Congresspeople can't be budged into one camp or another strikes me as ludicrously ahistorical. You cite one example yourself, General Clark's persuasion of the Out of Iraq Caucus to hold its fire. And one of the Caucus's leaders, Maxine Waters, who I know passing well, is nothing if not stubborn. As for posturing, et cetera, I'm not saying ALL elected Democrats. Nor am I saying that all those who disagree with MY stance have been doing the posturing, triangulating and hemming and hawing. But plenty have been.

* Whatever planning is made for withdrawal, and however long we delay that day, nobody has yet shown me exactly how the lid is to be kept on the plethora of bubbling geopolitical matters in the region - Kurdish irredentism, Iran-Iraq Shi'a affinity and the attitude of Sunni entitlement. Then there's negotiating the complex intersection of Russian and Chinese and Pakistani and Indian ambitions.

* While General Odom certainly has been associated with some shady hegemonists, including NeoCons - and I carry no brief for him - before I buy your claim, I'll have to see some direct and recent quotations from him laying out his "undisguised objective" of a military conquest of the Middle East.

Why I like Wes Clark.

Until about 1993 I had never heard of him. But I worked on Paul Wellstone's 1990 campaign, and in the middle of the muddle Paul got asked some questions up on the Iron Range about Bosnia (when things were just beginning to get hot), and he came back to the office and said two things, 1) I don't know the answers to any questions about the future of Yugolsavia, and 2) do we have someone who knows anything about all this?

It fell to me to find that person (s). Within three days I had three academics who knew the turf, and I contributed my roadmap of Yugoslavia, (in Slovinian) and we had a hamburger lunch to get Paul up to speed around the corner from the campaign office.

He got elected, and for two years of the Bush One Administration he made nasty at State about the matter. Then Clinton was winning, and Paul got to contribute a paragraph to a Clinton Iron Range Speech on Bosnia. Then Clinton got elected, and Paul had weekly fights with Tony Lake over the matter (Action, Man, action!!).

Finally one time I saw Paul he told me he thought progress was possible on Bosnia. Clinton had found a General who actually wanted to solve the matter. Not just show the flag, but actually solve the problem.

Hopefull. Watch this General Wesley Clark. Well I watched, and indeed he acted and did the job. Paul was bothered about how to reward or praise a General who essentially solved a genocide matter or more lightly, a human rights matter, and not screw his career. He mentally resolved it by not shaking hands with Milosevic, and stating that he did not normally shake hands with Butchers. But Clark did not have a problem, as Clinton promoted him. After Bosnia the two became friends -- odd couple, but friends in a deep sense.

I read both of Clark's books, and supported him in 2004. I probably would support hin in 2008 but it is much too early for commitments. If he runs again, I hope he has a team that can give him a decent campaign.

Reasons for supporting Clark:

1) He totally comprehends the military political doctrine of George Marshall. I know this sounds odd, but the guy knew how to plan years out and for success -- but he also understood the importance of political goals for any military move.

2) Understands how to work with a civilian NGO community. See's organizing it as essential to success.

3) The Core of a Marshall doctrine is the necessity of being clear about how to restore normal politics after a season of combat. If you win the day, you get to determine much of how the politics will fall. But you sacrifice your day, if you don't know how to accomplish your political ends. Clark is the only US General I know of who can discuss this easily and clearly.

2) The other thing I like is Clark's not so complete ideas about a Department of Development linked with the UN -- and his general ideas about the need to deal with "failed states" by offering some sort of UN Trustieship. Clark apparently does believe that the UN should have some sort of very basic law and administration that could be laid on a failed state till it could recover. I think he is half way there.

I believe he is far more sophisticated in his thinking than Hilary Clinton, or most of the 2008 potentials. Will that win the Iowa caucus? Who knows? Chris Mathews says it is all over, it is Clinton. And she will be defeated by McCain. I hope it is still very very open.

I share your assessment of Clark, even though I have not worked with him. He does remind me of the approach to things we once saw in Democrats like FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, Truman, Marshall, JFK, and a few others. They thought globally and had a way of balancing everything so as to get results that, even if less than perfect, could stand the test of time, and, most important, reflected the best of human (and American) values. It's been a long time since America has seen real quality in our leadership. I hope that Clark can get a fair hearing in the Democratic Party, and I hope he has learned his lessons from the 2004 primary season. We need him and the approach to government he brings to the table. As for Hillary, I will simply not vote for her.

Blades -- I didn't suggest elected's can't be budged. You suggest they can be pushed ["activist-constituents around the country should prepare to push a couple of hundred home district-visiting Democratic Representatives and Senators into Murtha’s camp"] ... but the example you take is a case of quiet persuasion, not pressure.

There's more agonizing than posturing, at least on the big stuff. Find one posturing, maybe you can push 'em somewhere. [There are still posturing R's under the yoke of party discipline. There's no D party line on this issue. Which D do you think is posturing?]

The war sill lose support in Congress, and at some point (probably before November 2006) there will be either a nonbinding antiwar resolution or a binding antiwar act. (Bush may veto, but at that point he and the war are toast either way.) Or Bush may shortcut the process, "declare victory and get out".

I simply don't know what to do with your argument that there's no value in disaster delayed. If the end of the world is inevitable, next year is better than this year. If it's not, an out may emerge in time by design or by chance ... or something else may overtake us, or overtake whatever's chasing us.

Odom made no bones about his goals -- and their relation to his objection to Bush's adventure -- in extended interviews in May 2004 when he became an overnight sensation (as I pointed out directly to any number of star-struck "progressives" at the time). Not sure if that meets your recency criterion.

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